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Politically-Connected Developer Enters PA's Race For U.S. Senate

PHILADELPHIA, PA (WHYY) — Montgomery County real estate developer and GOP fundraiser Jeff Bartos, 48, is the latest candidate to join the race for Pennsylvania’s open 2022 U.S. Senate election.

Bartos, a Republican, ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor in 2018, hitching his wagon to former State Sen. Scott Wagner, a York County waste management millionaire who pitched himself as a Donald Trump-like figure. The Wagner-Bartos ticket lost badly to incumbent Democrat Tom Wolf.

In a video announcing his campaign, Bartos didn’t mention Wagner — instead stressing his appreciation for small businesses and talking about the nonprofit he co-founded in the midst of the pandemic, the Pennsylvania 30 Day Fund, which raises money to extend forgivable grants to businesses.

“When people look around and see their elected officials spending more time attacking each other than attacking the problems that are crippling the community, they get fed up,” he said in the video. “I looked at that and said I have to do something about it. And you know what, I did.”

Bartos also said he’s skeptical of the pandemic aid the federal government handed down, saying it “continues to step in, time and again, in a way that favors the big companies at the expense of the little companies.”

It’s a critique that has been expressed across the political spectrum, with progressives like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) pushing for stricter guidelines around aid to larger businesses.

September 2020 Brookings study also found that aid to businesses had been unequal in other ways. Researchers reported that small businesses in majority-white neighborhoods got federal Paycheck Protection Program loans “more quickly than small businesses in majority-Black and majority-Latino or Hispanic neighborhoods.”

Despite his issues with the way federal aid was disbursed under President Trump’s administration, Bartos also sought to avoid alienating the former president’s formidable group of supporters.

“Donald Trump represented someone listening to millions of Pennsylvanians who felt like no one was fighting for them,” he said in the video.

Bartos did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

After two-term Republican Sen. Pat Toomey announced he wasn’t running for reelection, the field for Pennsylvania’s junior U.S. Senate seat began getting crowded, quickly.

On the Democratic side, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman and State Representative Malcolm Kenyatta — of Allegheny County and Philadelphia, respectively — have already declared their candidacies. Democratic State Sen. Sharif Street has also said he’s seriously considering a run.

Bartos is so far the highest-profile candidate to jump in on the Republican side. But several others are considering joining him, including former Chester County GOP Congressman Ryan Costello, who is expected to launch an exploratory committee soon, as well as several current members of congress.

Going into the race, Bartos does have something the other GOP hopefuls likely don’t: an apparently genuine friendship with one of his Democratic opponents, Fetterman.

The two met during the 2018 gubernatorial race, as they crisscrossed the commonwealth with their running mates — and they got along.

“Jeff is a good guy and a good friend,” Fetterman commented on Twitter. “I welcome him to the race.”


WHYY is the leading public media station serving the Philadelphia region, including Delaware, South Jersey and Pennsylvania. This story originally appeared on  WHYY.org.